Superman Returns

Superman Returns

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Why the World Needs (Some Kind of) Superman (and I Do, Too)

Jul 9, 2006 (Updated Jul 10, 2006)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

  • Bang For The Buck

Pros:Brandon Routh, dreamboat; amusing Parker Posey; thrilling, spectacular effects; Superman has heart and soul.

Cons:Bosworth frowns, unpersuasive as 'intrepid reporter' or human, like Marsden; Shar-peiesque Spacey; plot holes.

The Bottom Line: See this for the dishy Brandon Routh doing justice to the role, and the fabulous special FX. But I still can't take Mr Routh home.




‘He’s cute!’

So exclaims Kitty Kowalski, Lex Luthor’s toy dog-toting moll, on seeing a newspaper photo of the superhero in ‘Superman Returns’. I couldn’t agree more!

The Man of Steel has returned to Earth – well, at least to Metropolis (i.e., New York City), to work once again for the Daily Planet as mild-mannered, bespectacled reporter, Clark Kent. Gone for five years after leaving the planet unannounced, Superman was tied up with matters relating to his own, left-for-lost planet, Krypton, which everyone thought was gone until astronomers happened to spot it in the heavens those few years ago.

Well, about a day or two post-arrival, there’s already one Herculean task in bad and immediate need of our returning superhero’s skills! And his first super-saving deed occurs in full view of thousands of people gathered together in one place who’ve paid to see something else altogether!

Clark/Superman finds a few things changed since he left, such as Lois now being a mother, and Lex Luthor now roaming the streets as a free, and extremely wealthy, man. What hasn’t changed is the malicious intent of his arch enemy, Lex Luthor. The havoc created in Metropolis all result from Luthor’s secret use of a potent, stolen crystal to tamper with the city’s major power grids. It’s all a means to his latest nefarious, silly scheme that has to do with – what else? Creating the earth’s largest and newest real estate! Who knew that Lex’s dream was still to become the world’s biggest realtor?

As for Superman himself, I so craved the presence of Mr Routh onscreen. Conventionally handsome, he just grows more gorgeous and hunky with time, and doesn’t look the least bit silly in that wacky ensemble of blue tights, red trunks and red cape. He might be an alien from Krypton, but Mr Routh’s Superman by far ranks as the most human of the major characters here. His Superman is smart, but he’s a man of few words, and doesn’t brag about it. He possesses super-duperhuman strength, but carries out his tasks with the gentleness of a dove.

The melancholic loneliness of the god-like superhero, the half-human/half-Krypton being becomes too acute for the Man of Steel. Superman being who he is, he can’t really live a normal, human life, can he?…but he still betrays his humanity in certain, specific ways, too.

It’s Superman’s uncloying sweetness and utter lack of hubris that clinched the deal, endearing the character to this viewer forever. Muy simpatico!, as some would say. I even grew a lump in my throat while watching him suffer sadistic body blows from those Evil Henchmen of Lex Luthor. (Whence comes all this infatuation and empathy for, of all creatures, a comic supercreature?)

As for Lois Lane, once more I decry the patent inability of the Superman franchise to cast anyone half-decent in the role. In the Christopher Reeve films, Margot Kidder just annoyed with her pseudo-toughness and pseudo-smarts. But at least she showed some spark of life. Not so with Ms Bosworth in this latest instalment.

Lois Lane, intrepid reporter, Kate Bosworth isn’t. Her Lois looks and acts the stereotypically corn-fed girl from Kansas now working in the Big City, who still hasn’t adopted the zip and sassiness nearly essential to life as a Metropolitan reporter. So her lines do lack zing, but she does nothing to resuscitate those limp words from their comatose repose, so Extreme Boring happens when she’s around. She so lacks warmth and sympathy. She looks constantly irritable, as if plagued by perpetual PMS. Her lack of any charisma stems mostly from that suppressed, semi-permanent frown plastered to her mug. Geemeneez, where’s Hildy Johnson of ‘His Girl Friday’ when you need her?

Better yet, where’s Parker Posey when you need a good Lois Lane? Oh, I forgot. They’ve stuck her in yet another quirky character part with bad hair (but very retro, Hollywood costumes).

Indie film goddess Posey gets another stab at a mainstream action vehicle, but predictably gets to play the (sorta) heavy, the dumb-as-rocks female sidekick to Lex Luthor. She’s underutilized, but she offers a few rare moments of standard comic relief in the underwritten role of Kitty Kowalski. Her lungs get a good pumping with all that screaming going on as her ‘fixed’ Mustang careens like a runaway train through the sidewalks, steps and streets of crowded, night-time Metropolis. Surprisingly (although a bit creakily, as the plot is), like Superman, Kitty possesses the other glimmer of heart and humanity in an otherwise cardboard cut-out cast of characters.

Lois’s live-in boyfriend (heavens, will socially conservative viewers wag their collective finger at this?) matches her perfectly in blahhhndness and absence of personality. Playing Richard White, the nephew of Daily Planet editor-in-chief Perry White (limned by Frank Langella), James Marsden comes across as flat and unappealing as his mate. ‘Nuff said ‘bout that.

Heck, between these two, I’d take the perky, smiling Jimmy Olsen (Sam Huntington) anytime. At least he’s got a good-natured earnestness and optimism that can come in handy in a depressing pinch.

Those Shar-Peiesque features emphasized by the bald top kept distracting me from concentrating on Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor , ex-con who has gotten out of prison early due to some technicalities. As for his campy turn as Lex, he phones in much of that evil nemesis stuff. Only when he starts beating up on a debilitated Superman does his genuinely menacing meanness emerge. Naturally, lazy Hollywood pulls out another cliché for the film bad guy – Lex Luthor’s appreciation for classical music, albeit mostly popular tunes: into the spacious den of his luxury boat waft subdued sounds of Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons’, Bizet’s ‘Carmen’ and Mozart’s twentieth piano concerto.

No surprise to anyone, but yes, the special effects are duly spectacular and enthralling, and the life-saving heroics of Kal-El deliciously satisfying. You always expect Superman to show up to save the day at the last moment, and you know what? It might seem corny to read about it, but it still felt really good to have that expectation met, and with such confidence in the hero’s ability to right things with smarts as well as brawn. I do wonder whether this catharsis comes from the sense that those disasters portrayed in the film hew much too closely to the realities of today to be easily dismissed as fiction.

Not unexpected, either, are the few leaps in logic and some gaping plot holes. To mention just two: how does our dear Lois Lane emerge from that lengthy, body-bruising, bone-crushing, concussion-inducing joyride in the 777 jet with merely a hair or two out of place? (Maybe she’s also from Krypton and we just don’t know it?) Clark Kent’s coiffure makeover and rimmed glasses still barely rank as a convincing disguise for Superman, even after all these years. Oh, what the heck, it’s just a comic book tale, and disbelief suspension when it comes to such trivialities comes with the territory.

Reflecting the blindness and deafness of its creators to the global village of today, the film continues to repeat a time-warped, stuck-in-the-50s line when it prints editorial headlines like ‘Why the World Needs Superman’. This ‘world’ referred to differs little from the one that labels those mostly homegrown baseball games in ‘The World Series’. This ‘world’ is limited to the USA (and maybe, just maybe, Canada. Which doesn’t really count, does it?). Little mention of those other continents of Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America…. I will concede, however, that given the sorry and perilous state of this big, wide world today, it would be nice to have some kind of Superman to help us bungling humans out.

Now, if only he could do something about…hmm, maybe we could start with that ancient Mideast problem…and the North Korea thing….oh, but my reverie has abruptly come to an end. And I still can’t take that Routh fellow home with me…oh, blast it!


Recommend this product? Yes


Movie Mood: Action Movie
Viewing Method: Other
Film Completeness: Looked complete to me.
Worst Part of this Film: Cast

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